Xi & Albanese: Can we seize the opportunity?
19 November 2022
Whilst I hold Australia rather than China most responsible for the tension, our media has played a big part in promoting hostility. It has been a shameful performance from many ‘senior’ journalists and I don’t exclude ABC journalists with their attack dog style
| Pearls & Irritations
SYDNEY - The meeting between president Xi Jinping and prime minister Anthony Albanese could result in an overdue improvement in relations between China and Australia.
Real improvements will take time and a lot of goodwill. (But will deputy prime minister Richard Marles be a stumbling block?)
The language of the 32-minute meeting was cordial with president Xi attaching ‘great importance’ to prime minister Albanese’s opinion and Xi’s stance that the relationship with Australia was worth ‘cherishing’.
For 45 years after the establishment of diplomatic relations we got on well together.
But the mood changed after 2015 when Malcolm Turnbull became prime minister.
Encouraged by some of their advisers, Turnbull and his successor Scott Morrison had the Australian government take many actions that upset China.
They included hostile speeches by Turnbull, Morrison and other Ministers, dumping actions on Chinese aluminium and steel products, rejecting Chinese investment in non-strategic industries like dairy products and leading the campaign against Huawei’s 5G system.
Homes of Chinese journalists in Australia were raided and, to please president Donald Trump, the government publicly blamed China for the outbreak of Covid-19 at Wuhan.
More recently, arrangements between Australia and the US on nuclear submarines and the rotation of US nuclear capable B-52 bombers through the Northern Territory have not helped.
The Australian government’s hostility towards China was supported and encouraged by our mainstream media that is heavily influenced by a Washington-centric view of the world.
We really do have a White Man’s Media.
In response, China introduced trade sanctions on a range of Australian products in 2020 – including wine, barley, beef, lobsters and some coal.
Ministers in former Coalition governments, and now prime minister Albanese, criticised China for $20 billion sanctions on Australian products.
I think this $20 billion figure is bogus. And our media keeps repeating it whilst failing to mention how the dispute first began with Turnbull.
But despite the obstructive action taken on both sides, two-way trade has continued to be strong particularly with recent Chinese purchases of iron ore and natural gas.
Whilst I hold Australia rather than China most responsible for the tension, the Australian public has clearly supported its government in the disagreement.
Our media has played a big part in promoting hostility towards China. It has been a shameful performance from many ‘senior’ journalists and I don’t exclude ABC journalists with their attack dog style.
There are good reasons for both Australia and China to repair the relationship.
China is our biggest trading partner by far and as China further grows and develops, that trade will increase.
Australians would suffer heavily if there was a major disruption of Australia-China trade.
Hopefully the meeting between Xi and Albanese will start to put relations back on track after they have been foolishly and dangerously damaged.
In any relationship there will be problems but those difficulties can best be solved through diplomatic discussion and compromise.
The meeting came 50 years after diplomatic relations were established by the Whitlam Labor government, with which I was closely associated.
In fact, I accompanied Gough Whitlam on his visit to China in 1973 to celebrate establishing diplomatic relations.
Whitlam was hosted on this visit by Deng Xiaoping in what was, I think, Deng’s first public appearance after being purged.
Whitlam died several years ago but I am sure he would have been disturbed about the unfortunate approach of successive Australian governments to relations with China.
In 1972 and in subsequent years he made it very clear that he would not be a patsy for the US.
And he never tired of proclaiming that ‘China is one country. Beijing is it capital and Taiwan is a province.’
I hope Albanese emphasised to Xi that, just as Whitlam supported the policy of one China, so he also supports that policy without qualification.
Such a clear declaration by Albanese would have been a great help in getting Australia-China relations back on track despite the background noise coming from the Americans.
The meeting provided an opportunity for Albanese to take personal ownership of the relationship with China.
During his term of office, Paul Keating showed how that could be done with president Suharto in relations with Indonesia.
We have argued in Pearls and Irritations that China is not a military threat to Australia.
But we do run risks because we are becoming a proxy for the US in our region.
Defence Minister Marles is a very enthusiastic spear carrier for the US and appears to welcome the support of Opposition leader Peter Dutton and senior shadow minister Andrew Hastie.
That spear carrying process for the US began when Julia Gillard, Stephen Smith and Kim Beazley invited US marines into Darwin.
Marles with his ‘Defence in Depth’ concept is now supporting the acquisition of attack submarines to operate against China on the Chinese coast and has agreed to the rotation of nuclear armed B52s at Tindal air force base in the Northern Territory.
China is not a military threat but the alleged threat is used to justify our support for a very ‘dangerous ally’. The defence of Australia has become a secondary issue.
Allowing ourselves to be a proxy or patsy for the US against China must stop and there is one person who can do. It is our prime minister, if he can build on the relationship with president Xi.
It would also honour the Labor legacy of Gough Whitlam, who strongly held the view that foreign troops should not be stationed in Australia except in an emergency or under a United Nations mandate. Think US marines in Darwin and B-52s at Tindal today.
Albanese has good domestic political reason to get the relationship with China back on track.
Over a million loyal Chinese Australians have felt victimised by the anti-China campaigns of the Turnbull and Morrison Governments, supported by some Australian journalists.
Chinese Australians expressed their frustration at the 2022 elections when the ‘Chinese vote’ swung decisively to the ALP in the key seats of Parramatta, Reid, Bennelong, Chisholm and Tangney.
The ALP owes its majority to these ‘Chinese votes’, but they are not locked-in ALP voters.
They expressed their concerns by voting against the Coalition that had cast doubts about their loyalty.
I am sure that Anthony Albanese will take these ‘Chinese votes’ into account as he tries to restore the relationship with China.
He is off to a promising start with his meeting with President Xi.
A primer on history of England, points to context.
So, is it not the wiles of William live on in largess of controls within least two regimes?
That Domesday Book now seems a precursor to visual recognition by "AI".
Posted by: Lindsay F Bond | 21 November 2022 at 09:51 AM
Taiwan. This is a vexed issue. In this day and age, I think it boils down to whether there is a justifiable excuse for invading and murdering a population that is happily independent and doesn’t need you to rescue them from themselves.
Imagine a scenario closer to home. What if tomorrow the Tasmanian government unilaterally declared independence and declared that henceforth it will manage its own affairs as sovereign independent state.
However, that relations between the apple isle and Australia will remain as before. Their new status will not affect trade, sporting ties or people movement.
Much the same as the relationship between New Zealand and Australia or the 27 member states of the EU which allows free movement of goods, capital, services and people between them while maintaining their own governments, language, cultural identity and foreign policy agenda.
Would Tasmania taking such a move justify invasion by the Australian army and the wholesale persecution and murder of those who had supported independence?
For me the question of Taiwan is straightforward. Do we wish to support the values of Adolf Hitler or Vladimir Putin both of whom shared the view that subjugation and murder of people can be justified in the cause of nationalism.
It is worth remembering that an alternative vision was pushed particularly hard by the former German Chancellor and Statesman, Willy Brandt who as a young Social Democrat fled the Gestapo in the 1930s but returned to Germany after WW2 to lead the effort to peacefully unify that divided country and the rest of Europe around the idea of a shared future and prosperity among people of different political and cultural identities.
The CCP should be judged by its stated goals and actions. I see in the same light their invasion of Tibet, the murder of students in Tiananmen Square and subsequent attempt to erase the event from history, the trashing of the hopes and aspirations of a generation in Hong Kong for daring to envision a different political future, the incarceration of several million Uyghurs of different cultural and religious identity, its pursuit of wolf warrior diplomacy, the notion of returning China to its “Rightful” place in the world and its stated aim to “reunify” a population of 24 million Taiwanese, who are happily unified among themselves thank you very much, by force if necessary.
It is hubris and nationalism on steroids otherwise known as Fascism. By any measure the CCP is a fascist organisation led by an avowed fascist and no amount of glad handing at the G20 or anywhere else can alter that perception.
The Albanese government will need to tread a fine line between extending the hand of friendship to all. But maintain Australia’s ability to defend itself in a world of ever more credible threats. I believe to do otherwise is to court another Chamberlain moment and the awful consequences that followed.
Posted by: Stephen Charteris | 20 November 2022 at 03:26 PM
I have a huge amount of respect for John Menadue and thus accept that his comments reflect his long and deep experience in dealing with China.
I also entirely agree with his comments on the former LNP government, which was spectacularly inept in its dealings with China, although its criticisms of China were not always entirely without merit.
I also strongly approve of the Albanese government's sensible approach to China which has been respectful but forthright and certainly not shrill or full of the overblown hyperbole that characterised the previous government's approach.
That said, it remains the case that China is governed by an authoritarian regime whose values are greatly at odds with those accepted as normal in democratic societies. This will be a source of unease and friction into the foreseeable future but is not necessarily a barrier to having a sensible and pragmatic relationship between our two countries.
I have previously written that Australia needs to have a close defence relationship with the USA, and I maintain that this is still the case. However, it needs to be a relationship based upon mutual respect and support, not slavish adherence to the USA's foreign policy aims. These are not necessarily Australia's aims nor in its national interest.
In that regard, I remain puzzled by the decision to base US bombers here at the moment and the apparent enthusiasm for buying hideously expensive nuclear submarines. The strategic or tactical value of the latter escapes me at the moment, but I am open to hearing a plausible explanation for why it is worth spending around $90.0 billion on these weapon systems.
Based upon what has happened in Ukraine, I think that the money might be better spent on creating the capacity to manufacture a large and powerful armoury of missiles, including intercontinental ballistic missiles.
China's leader Xi Zinping has reached out to Australia for several reasons, not least our significant trading relationship. However, an unstated reason is that over the last few years China has over played its hand in foreign relations and alienated many countries with which it once had good relations.
As I have repeatedly asserted, China is a very powerful country, but it is not yet a superpower. In fact, it seems unlikely to ever achieve that status owing to a number of financial, economic and demographic problems that now confront it.
The only power on earth that can hope to successfully project its military power far beyond its shores is the USA and even it is now less capable of doing so than once was the case. China cannot yet do this which helps explain why Xi felt able to assure President Biden that no invasion of Taiwan is imminent.
From an Australian perspective it makes sense to be friendly terms with all countries in our region, including China. We need them and they need us.
However, this does not mean simply accepting behaviours or actions that are inconsistent with our values or national interests and I think that is exactly the basis upon which the Albanese government is operating.
With commendable prudence, it is taking an active role in regional defence structures like the 'Quad' whilst simultaneously maintaining an essentially friendly posture with respect to China.
In this context, I note that Albanese has recently said that the government will not support Taiwan joining ASEAN or APEC on the basis that Taiwan is not recognised as a sovereign state. This position is consistent with that adopted by the Whitlam government long ago and no doubt brought comfort to Xi Zinping.
With a bit of luck, we will abandon the folly of buying nuclear submarines and focus our attention and resources on other weapon systems that promise to deliver much better value for money as well as be vastly less provocative to some of our neighbours.
Posted by: Chris Overland | 19 November 2022 at 02:19 PM
John shares insights beyond my capacity. So any precedents?
Around 1860, nations of Europe were in transition mode on matters of maritime weaponry. (That's within the decade following arrival in colonies of the now Australia, of most of my forebears from isle-lands near continental Europe.)
“A rifled cannon was more accurate and had a greater range than a smoothbore gun.” http://www.thomaslegion.net/americancivilwar/civilwarcannonartilleryguns.html
With advantage came exploitation. In Europe, gun sizes grew larger, so to bear weights and impacts, ships of wood became ironclad until superseded by those of metal.
Then became paramount, where and how to deliver projectiles from that weaponry. This included a class of maritime vessel called “iron-armoured floating batteries”, of very particular scope.
Decision making by national leaders had sights on scope. “[Repeat] the 1847-1848 invasion scare demonstrated the weakness of democracies in the face of coherent military elites”.
“[Report] recommended a huge programme of fortification to defend the country's arsenals and naval bases [yet] the great expense, the length of time taken to complete the various works and their perceived usefulness were all subjects of critical political, press and public debate.”
Posted by: Lindsay F Bond | 19 November 2022 at 12:03 PM
Great summary and I sincerely hope it is picked by mainstream media and widely circulated. Should be a "must" read for all thinking individuals
Posted by: Kevin O'Regan | 19 November 2022 at 08:22 AM
If you take a good look at the USA today why would you want to cosy up to them? Why would you want to cosy up to any other nation for that matter?
Richard Marles gives me the creeps. Any politician who hangs out for the defence portfolio has to be regarded with suspicion. Mutton Dutton was a great aspirant for that portfolio too. Forget about appeasing factions in the party. Get rid of Marles as Deputy Prime Minister and put Tanya Plibersek in his place.
Cancel that stupid submarine contract and tell the Yanks to take their evil aeroplanes somewhere else.
And maybe think about John's words of wisdom - "We really do have a White Man’s Media."
Posted by: Philip Fitzpatrick | 19 November 2022 at 08:10 AM